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JFK Sale Begins Without Some Items

March 19, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ One scribbled line of John F. Kennedy’s ``Ask not ...″ inaugural address and nine photocopied pages of the speech sold for $40,250 Wednesday as a two-day JFK memorabilia auction that had alarmed Kennedy’s children began.

Before the bidding opened, the collector selling most of the 500 or so items reached an agreement with Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr. to return some of their father’s more ``intensely personal″ items.

Among the items Robert L. White agreed to turn over were two of their father’s handwritten journals and a clock the president kept in the Oval Office.

As part of the agreement, the Kennedy children surrendered all claims to ownership of the other auction items, including the watch Kennedy was wearing on the day he was assassinated, and the briefcase he carried with him on that trip to Dallas _ both of which his children had asked for.

White was offering the briefcase for sale. He no longer owns the watch, which was being offered by an unknown seller.

White’s lawyer, Robert Adler, said his client was ``very glad to have the controversy behind him. He did not get into this auction wanting controversy, particularly with the Kennedys.″

Tom McNaught, a spokesman for the Kennedy Library in Boston, said the returned items would be given to the library. The Kennedys did not immediately return messages.

The bidding Wednesday afternoon at Manhattan’s Seventh Regiment Armory failed to excite the kind of frenzy seen during the 1996 sale of items from the estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Only about one-quarter of the seats were filled with 150 bidders. A number of expected big-ticket items were removed from sale after bidders failed to meet the minimum price set by Guernsey’s.

A 22-foot sloop sailed by Kennedy, the Flash II, was removed from sale after the highest bid, $800,000, did not meet the minimum, which one of the owners said was in the seven figures.

Bidding on the Cartier watch worn by Kennedy when he was killed reached $750,000 twice and bidding had to be restarted after a phone bidder was disconnected. But the offers apparently fell short of the minimum and the watch was removed from sale.

Also removed was a paperweight commemorating the Cuban missile crisis that Kennedy had presented to his secretary, Evelyn Norton Lincoln. It had been pegged for a minimum $100,000 bid.

The ``Honey Fitz,″ an 88-ton motorized yacht built in 1931, was named by Kennedy for his maternal grandfather and used during his administration as the presidential yacht, sold for more than $5.9 million.

Items handwritten or signed by Kennedy attracted the most interest, including the single sheet of yellow legal paper on which he scribbled one line from his Jan. 17, 1961 inaugural address: ``An inaugural is a beginning and an end _″.

It was packaged with a nine-page photocopy of Kennedy’s handwritten draft of the full speech, best known for the line, ``Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.″

The speech package had been expected to bring $4,000 to $6,000.

A signed Bell System telephone credit card in Kennedy’s name from 1961 sold for $12,650 _ below the presale estimate of $16,000 to $18,000, but well above the $1,035 paid for an unsigned 1959 membership card to the American Irish Historical Society.

``That really shows the value of a signature,″ said Larry Rosenbaum of EAC Gallery, an upstate New York business dealing in autographs and documents.

Evelyn Norton Lincoln, who was the president’s secretary, bequeathed White a trove of Kennedy’s personal items when she died in 1995. The Kennedy children have said they felt betrayed by Mrs. Lincoln.

``The number of items she took for herself, and the intensely personal character of many of them, is overwhelming,″ the Kennedys said.

Earlier this week, White agreed to remove 21 items after negotiating with the National Archives. Among the items were a White House writing desk and notes Kennedy made before a 1961 meeting with Nikita Khrushchev.

Two years ago, in a sale at Sotheby’s to benefit the Kennedy family, bidders paid out $34.5 million on 5,000 items from the estate of Mrs. Onassis.